Mario Batali: Keen on pici
Homemade pasta couldn't be simpler
Pici con Sugo d'Agnello. (David Gruber/Tribune Media Services)
A: Once you master basic pasta dough, you can make almost any shape. But the simplest and perhaps the most gratifying is pici.
An easy way to form pici is to roll pasta dough into a thick, flat sheet and then cut it into strips. (Another method for starting the noodles is suggested in the recipe below.) Roll the strips on a wooden board to create long spaghetti. Pici is meant to be irregular, so do not try too hard to smooth out the bumps and jags. The rough surface of the noodle allows it to hold the sauce better.
This process requires no tools at all. In my house, we don't even use a rolling pin; we opt for an empty wine bottle instead.
The most important step in all of pasta cookery -- particularly with pasta fresco -- is moving the pasta directly from the boiling water into the pan with the condiment, so that the two separate ingredients (the noodle and the sauce) come together as one. Allow the two to cook together for about a minute to give the porous pasta a chance to absorb the flavor of the lamb.
These noodles have a splendid chew to them, the perfect foil for a lusty ragu. If you're in a pinch and don't have time to make the pasta, I recommend serving the sauce with orecchiette or big rigatoni.
Pici con Sugo d'Agnello
(Pici with Lamb Sauce)
Courtesy of "Molto Italiano" (ecco, 2005)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 carrot, finely chopped
4 ounces thinly sliced pancetta, finely diced
1 bunch basil, leaves only, finely chopped
1 pound boneless lamb shoulder, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 cup basic tomato sauce
1 1/4 pounds Eggless Pasta Dough (see below)
Semolina or cornmeal, for dusting
In a 10- to 12-inch deep saute pan, heat the olive oil over high heat until almost smoking. Add the onion, carrot, pancetta and basil. Reduce the heat to medium-high, and cook until the pancetta has rendered its fat. Season the lamb with salt and pepper, add it to the pan, and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned on all sides.
Add the wine and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the tomato sauce and bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer and season with salt and pepper. Cover and simmer gently until the meat is tender, about 1 hour.
Meanwhile, shape the pasta dough into golf ball-sized balls. One at a time, on a surface very lightly dusted with flour, roll each one into a rope 1/4-inch thick and 16 to 18 inches long. Cut the ropes into 5- to 6-inch-long pieces and set aside on a baking sheet dusted with semolina.
Bring 6 quarts of water to boil in a large pot, and add 2 tablespoons salt.
Drop the pasta into the boiling water and cook until tender, 7 to 8 minutes. Drain the pasta, toss into the pan with the sauce, and stir gently over medium-high heat for 1 minute. Divide evenly among four warmed pasta bowls, and serve.
Pasta di Semola
(Eggless Pasta Dough from Puglia)
Makes 4 servings.
2 cups semolina flour
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 to 1 1/4 cups tepid water
Mound the flour in the center of a large wooden cutting board. Make a well in the center of the flour and add water a little at a time, stirring with your hands until a dough is formed. As you incorporate the water, keep pushing the flour up to retain the well shape (do not worry if it looks messy). The dough will come together in a shaggy mass when about half of the flour is incorporated. You may need more or less water, depending on the humidity in your kitchen.
Start kneading the dough with both hands, primarily using the palms of your hands. Once the dough is a cohesive mass, remove the dough from the board and scrape up any leftover dry bits. Lightly flour the board and continue kneading for 3 more minutes. The dough should be elastic and a little sticky. Continue to knead for another 3 minutes, remembering to dust your board with flour when necessary. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and set aside for 10 minutes at room temperature. Roll and form as desired.
(Mario Batali is the award-winning chef behind 24 restaurants, including Eataly, Del Posto and his flagship Greenwich Village enoteca, Babbo. In this column, Mario answers questions submitted via social media and by people he encounters daily in Downtown Manhattan. Follow Mario on Twitter @mariobatali. Keep asking!)